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New project: The Global AI Talent Tracker + NYT story & memories of Wuhan

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Hi all, I hope everyone is staying safe, sane and healthy amidst everything going on right now. It's
 
June 17 · Issue #56 · View online
Matt Sheehan's Newsletter
Hi all,
I hope everyone is staying safe, sane and healthy amidst everything going on right now. It’s been a bewildering few months, and an especially heavy few weeks since the murder of George Floyd. I won’t wade into my own thoughts or how I’m processing everything here, but I hope everyone has been able to make time for both reflection and action.
What I would like to share with you today is a new project that I’ve been working intensively on for the past six months, and that really builds on almost two years of work: The Global AI Talent Tracker.
The project set out to answer three questions:
  • Where do top-tier AI researchers come from?
  • Where are they today?
  • And how did they get there?
To answer those, my co-author Ishan Banerjee and I set out to map the global balance and flow of top-tier research talent by gathering educational and career data on a large sample of authors at a top AI conference (NeurIPS 2019). We then used that data to visualize these international flows, and to answer some key policy questions.
Without giving away all the juicy details, here are the main takeaways we had from the data.
Key Takeaways
  1. The United States has a large lead over all other countries in top-tier AI research, with nearly 60% of top-tier researchers working for American universities and companies. The US lead is built on attracting international talent, with more than two-thirds of the top-tier AI researchers working in the United States having received undergraduate degrees in other countries.
  2. China is the largest source of top-tier researchers, with 29% of these researchers having received undergraduate degrees in China. But the majority of those Chinese researchers (56%) go on to study, work, and live in the United States.
  3. Over half (53%) of all the top-tier AI researchers are immigrants or foreign nationals currently working in a different country from where they received their undergraduate degrees.
We shared some of the data with the New York Times, which published a great article + data visualization to go with our launch: “A US Secret Weapon in AI: Chinese Talent
NeurIPS is of course only one conference, but we cross-validated the findings against data from other conferences and found them to align very closely. (Details on that in the second half of the methodology.)
Below are some previews of plots in the data, but I highly encourage you to explore the full product. Further below those are links to two more pieces I’ve written in recent months: memories of how the city of Wuhan changed my path (in Chinese), and a look at the most-downloaded apps in the developing world.
Here I’d also like to give a special shout-out to two fellow researchers who I worked with on earlier versions of this study. Jeffrey Ding of Oxford did a first look at a subset of NeurIPS researchers back in 2018, when we worked together on the interactive ChinAI project at MacroPolo. (If you’re interested in this stuff, you should definitely subscribe to Jeff’s excellent ChinAI Newsletter). In 2019, Joy Dantong Ma and I repeated and expanded the study, producing a pair of articles on the top researchers at NeurIPS and a sample of Chinese researchers. This project wouldn’t exist without them, so major thanks.
OK, a preview of the charts:

The central visualization showing flows over time. It's interactive, so head to the project and click on the different nodes to highlight flows.
The central visualization showing flows over time. It's interactive, so head to the project and click on the different nodes to highlight flows.
Great visualization from the NYT data team. Note: the numbers on "post-grad work" look slightly different from ours on "Where do top-tier AI researchers work today?" This is because NYT is using our data on the geographic location of the researchers, while we used our data on where their company is headquartered.
Great visualization from the NYT data team. Note: the numbers on "post-grad work" look slightly different from ours on "Where do top-tier AI researchers work today?" This is because NYT is using our data on the geographic location of the researchers, while we used our data on where their company is headquartered.
Memories of Wuhan and Apps in Developing Countries
Below are two other pieces of writing I’ve done in the past couple months that I thought you might be interested in.
一个老外关于武汉的一些回忆 -An American’s Memories of Wuhan - Matt Sheehan - Medium
This piece is a rather personal one, and something that I’d been thinking about since late January. My first trip to Wuhan in 2010 was to attend my first-ever ultimate frisbee tournament in China, and it quite literally changed my entire outlook on the country and set me on a different course. For that, I can never thank the city or the people of Wuhan enough.
This year it was really painful to watch that city become synonymous with a virus for so many people, and I just wanted to write down and share my own memories of the place. I think the experiences I wrote about tend to mirror the whole roller coaster of emotions that often come with moving to a new country where you don’t speak the language. Hopefully, it resonates.
I wrote the piece in Chinese, but if you’re not a Chinese reader then Google Translate does a pretty good job. (If you use Chrome, I believe there’s a simple button at the top that will translate the page as well.) That of course comes with all the pitfalls and awkwardness of literal translation, but you can follow the narrative – and hey, it’s got pictures from back then too!
The Chinese and American Apps Winning the Next Billion Users
A piece of mine that starts to explore a topic that I’m getting more and more interested in: US, Chinese and local technology ecosystems across the developing world.
I’m new to this space, and am trying to learn as much as possible about technology ecosystems in several countries, in particular India and Indonesia. If you’re into that too and want to chat, I’m all ears: msheehan@paulsoninstitute.org.

Thanks so much for reading and I hope to see many of you as life starts to return to normal-ish.
All the best,
Matt
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